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Jacksonville-area churches using CDC guidance to resume in-person services

Guidance aims to keep communities of faith safe while practicing their beliefs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines on how to help keep communities of faith safe while practicing their beliefs.

While gatherings present a risk for increasing the spread of the coronavirus, gathering together for worship is at the heart of what it means to be a community of faith.

On Sunday morning, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, spoke about attending church and said people have a right to their religion.

“The church I go to, they’re social distancing, they’re wearing masks. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Scott said on CNN. “Do I believe the government should be telling us what to do. Do I believe the government is telling us we don’t have a right to worship? I don’t believe they can. All Floridians, all Americans have the Bill of Rights. We have a right to worship where we want to. I believe people will do it safely.”

Meanwhile, Jacksonville-area churches are making adaptations using the CDC guidance to resume in-person services.

“It changes. That’s the reality of things with COVID-19,” said Tony Zeaiter, St. Paul’s Catholic Church’s parish business administrator.

St. Paul’s in Riverside is sanitizing before and after Mass, social distancing and encouraging masks during in-person services. If you want to attend, you’ll need to register online beforehand at https://stpauls-jax.org/.

“Every other pew is closed,” Zeaiter said. “When it comes down to Holy Communion, the priest or the Eucharistic minister go to the communicants. Nobody moves.”

RELATED: Slowly, surely, US houses of worship emerge from lockdown

St. Paul’s is only allowing 70 people per Mass. It offers four weekend Masses, with one being virtual for those who are at higher-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and want to stay home.

The CDC suggests communities of faith:

  • Encourage hand washing, use cloth face coverings and social distance.
  • Supply soap and hand sanitizer.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as prayer books and rugs, and encourage congregants to bring their own items.
  • Modify the way to receive financial contributions instead of a shared tray or basket.
  • Increase circulation of outdoor air by opening windows and doors.
  • Schedule services with time in between to clean and disinfect.

Over at First Baptist Callahan Church, Worship Pastor Mike Ricks said there have been some significant facility upgrades.

“We have sectioned off a lot of our pews and we’ve color-coded them so that if you’re sitting in this section, you’re going to go out a certain door to keep traffic patterns slow,” Ricks said.

Retraining the greeter team, opening additional venues on its campus and considering updating the air conditioning system to better purify the air coming inside are all steps that First Baptist Callahan has taken to make sure the community is safe.

“We replaced a lot of doorknobs with push polls so people could use our fee or shoulder or elbows,” Ricks added.

The First Baptist Callahan has also added more hand cleaning stations, changed the setups in bathrooms and shortened services to only 45 minutes.

VIEW: Safety precautions being taken by Callahan First Baptist Church

“We are going to radically revamp our services so that children can come with their families and be in worship together because we’re not comfortable yet opening up child care during warship no children’s church or Bible study,” Ricks said.

This summer, First Baptist Callahan is offering virtual Vacation Bible School instead of camp and it will be opening online registration next week. Craft packets will be made and delivered in advance, and videos and livestreams will be posted daily at https://www.callahanfbc.org/.


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